Sunday, March 30, 2008

Politicians and Pundits: Character, Learning, and Policy

Some columnists and op-ed writers remind me of George W. Bush. They will not base their evaluations and appraisals on evidence, let alone weighty evidence (or, as lawyers say, the most probative evidence). Others differ. In Pennsylvania, for example. And in New York.

What I find most noteworthy about this sort of coverage is the way it connects a candidate's knowledge and policies with her temperament and character. People know (or refuse to know) things in part because of their dispositions toward learning. Some folks like to learn and use their knowledge to structure detailed policies; some folks don't have the patience for that. Likewise, people's approach to policy - formation, but more importantly, implementation - also starts from how they like to approach situations in general. Some people approach reach out specifically to those who they might have reason to fear. Others prefer to build their own crowd and use it to oppose people who might not want to see their policies implemented.

This is true of each of us. Our dispositions and character traits make use differently effective in different contexts. But not all dispositions and character traits are created equal. For example, in a political leader, the tendency to ignore evidence and make decisions based on faith or hope can be deadly - at least for others. Witness George W. Bush and John McCain vis-a-vis Iraq.

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